Explore Palm Springs: Thomas O'Donnell

Multimillionaire's home still sits atop a hill overlooking Palm Springs

(From left) Dr. Winnifred Willis Jenny and her husband, Thomas O'Donnell, sit with Nellie Coffman watching a rodeo at the Field Club.

Courtesy of Palm Springs Historical Society


The Limelight News, the only home-owned, home-published, home-printed newspaper in Palm Springs announced in the Feb. 22, 1945 edition that the beloved pioneer resident and philanthropist Thomas O’Donnell had died.

Many Palm Springs residents paid final tribute, and city offices and businesses closed for several hours at midday. Chimes were rung from the public address system on the hillside at 12:15 and 12:30 p.m. announcing to the hundreds of Villagers, including many of O’Donnell’s oldest and closest friends, that the memorial service was about to start.

The service was held at the entrance gate of the O’Donnell golf course. Simultaneously, services were held in Los Angeles.

O’Donnell came to Palm Springs in the early 1920s seeking relief from a respiratory condition. He stayed at the Desert Inn and enjoyed “Mother” Nellie Coffman’s well-known hospitality. A friendship ripened between the two and it grew into an advantageous business arrangement.

Coffman’s wish to rebuild and expand The Desert Inn and O’Donnell’s desire for a separate home resulted in a deal. W.C. Tanner served as the architect of both projects, and Coffman served as building contractor and straw boss. O’Donnell also had a private golf course added to his estate.

He had been suffering from a heart ailment for many years and built a home (now the clubhouse at the O’Donnell Golf Club) that was easier to get to than his mansion built on the hill looking over the village that he loved.

He was removed by ambulance from his Palm Springs home and taken to Wilshire Hospital in Los Angles, and it was there that he passed away.

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